Get after it

Get after it

Copyright © 2017, Patrick Shea

GetAfterIt

THIS IS AN ORIGINAL WORK FULL OF WORDS, ILLUSTRATIONS, SOUNDS, AND VIDEO (ALL MINE, Patrick Shea). While playing for Chivas in Denver, I covered Roy Wegerle on his last day in Colorado.

“I was the last guy to cover Roy Wegerle when he played striker for the Colorado Rapids,” Diego told the players gathering before dawn for Friday Extra Effort Training. The Colorado Clix director of coaching selected Diego to lead a special center back session this week.

“It was a piece of cake, like marking a widow during her husband’s funeral. Then Steve Rammel replaced him and scored a long goal, the 2–1 scrimmage-winner. For us, it was the game of our lives. For them, just another day at work — last day for Wegerle in Colorado though. I guess we all have a sell-by date.”

The final player joined the group, and Diego didn’t say another word for the next 90 minutes. Snaking at the head of the line through a maze of cones, lines, and ladders, he stepped his warmup patterns for 22 high school boys and girls. From a ridge above the fields, you could hear predawn birdsongs and see faint puffs of breath in the growing light.

Across town, Spartan High School girls soccer head coach Travis McGee slapped his snooze alarm and challenged himself to come up with a solid excuse during the next nine minutes. If it’s good enough to get him out of his morning meeting with the athletic director, he’ll turn off his alarm, text Peter, and show up on campus in the afternoon for practice. If the fib sucks, he must get up to make it to work on time.

At a rest stop in Kansas, Jeremy jerked awake to the sound of a predawn trucker veering into the rumble-strips. His open-mic comedy routine went better than expected last night, his best so far.

“Maybe I can try clubs closer to home now, drop the anonymity?” Jeremy mused aloud in his empty car at the start of his long drive for Friday afternoon soccer practice at Spartan High School.

Jeremy coached goalkeepers for the boys and girls teams. Like assistant coach Diego Farler and equipment manager Jake Tanner, all three assistants work for both teams at the school. Diego and Jeremy also coach for Colorado Clix and work game-day management for visiting teams at Forgotten Memorial Stadium in town, home of the USL bottom-feeding Rattlesnake SC.

For almost a decade, Jeremy filled the fourth goalkeeper training spot for Whatever FC, the second MLS team in Colorado. The crests for Whatever FC and Rattlesnake SC show they were founded the same year, but they might as well be in London and Tokyo. Less than 100 miles apart, the presumed mothership and farm team have no official affiliation. In media interviews, team spokesfolks from both clubs say variations of “No comment” and “Who?”

Still,  USL and MLS players routinely appear at training sessions for both teams because locker room doors swing truer than locked front offices. Jeremy never got a call from the local USL club. He never played a minute for Whatever FC.

Travis hit snooze for another cycle.

Jake saw a green glow on the wall and got out of bed to charge his last set of camera batteries for soccer practice later in the day. Then he hopped on his bike and headed downtown for morning lap swim.

Diego punted balls from the penalty spot to a dozen center backs in the center circle while half the group jumped rope in pairs and juggled at the same time. Called “Reverse 500,” this drill doesn’t require fighting a group to win headers. Instead, players surround a blindfolded defender in the center. They wait and watch for the ball while the player listens and senses where it’s going. Then someone steps in to head it away to prevent nosebleeds and concussions. Kids call the game “Donkey Pinup,” “Pintail Donkey,” “Stevie Wonder,” or simply “Stevie.”

Blind, Juanita listened to Diego’s kick and shuffled her feet a few steps left and back before a rush of unseen players jumped in front of her. Diego served each defender at least 20 punts. After a dozen, Juanita had her feet set correctly for every header. No other player had more than three.

“She’s cheating,” Mack muttered after Juanita positioned herself perfectly for the 15th punt in a row. “Check her blindfold.”

“Nope,” a teammate said. “She’s just really good, Mack.”

“Bet?”

“You can put your blindfold on top of hers, and we’ll all stand back and let her take it this time. That all right with you, Nita?”

“Yep.”

Diego couldn’t hear the kids clumped together. When they stepped back he launched another high ball to midfield. Players squirmed like they had to pee while Juanita shuffled right, forward, and back before nodding the ball to Mack. They gasped and didn’t move.

Diego had never seen kids let the ball slip through to the blind player, and he’d certainly never seen anyone head it blindfolded. So he cocked the ball back in his arm and pantomimed throwing it trebuchet goalie style instead of punting. All the players laughed except Juanita.

“What’s so funny?”

Across town, Maria Salazar knocked on Bridget’s door at Thankful Memories, an assisted living facility with a memory care wing.

“Come in. Hola, Maria. Como esta?”

“Bien, bien. How are you?”

“Fine. Is today Sunday?”

“No, Bridget. It’s Friday.”

Travis hit snooze again.

MARIA’S DAUGHTER

A sophomore, Juanita Salazar plays left wing for Spartan High School, but the club coaches at Colorado Clix recognize her natural center back skills. She can run, kick with both feet, attack, defend, win battles in the air, and serve a ball. In her high school games, she sends in crosses, and she scores goals off set pieces and counter attacks. No one gets by her. She’s fit enough to play indoor league games in the middle of an outdoor tournament.

Juanita races cross-country in the fall for Spartan, a running program with a long history of success. Spartan boys and girls hold team records for cross-country and track championships in Colorado. The basketball, soccer, and swimming squads reach top contention every year. But ever since enrollment pushed Spartan to Class 5A, the trophy case honors no one but Running Kingdom athletes. All other trophies sit in storage while Peter Wood, the school’s athletic director, plans a history section remodel in the school library.

Juanita won field events, sprints, and long races in middle school, but the mandatory track meets were not her thing. Given the choice, soccer always trumps circus stunts. Her GPA ranks top-10 in the class, and she craves bigger mental challenges. A sprint to the finish line is too simple. Juanita prefers the head games involved managing 10 teammates, 11 opponents, and a bunch of refs, coaches, and fans for more than 90 minutes.

Juanita’s father Jesus played professional soccer in Aguascalientes, Mexico before moving to Colorado. He was part of Colorado Clix until he was killed helping a friend move from Juarez. Juanita was 11. Juanita remembers spending hours on the sideline kicking the ball during her father’s games. Demanding for a little kid, she insisted on facing the field so she could watch Jesus while she passed and juggled with anyone willing to join her. At halftime, she raced onto the field to shoot on goal with the other kids.

The oldest of six, Juanita grew up fast when her dad died. “It’s not fair, but I don’t expect anyone to give me anything but sympathy,” Juanita told herself. “I’ll help my mom and get the best grades I can. The rest of my time is my reward. I’m going to play the best soccer I possibly can, as often as possible, for as long as possible.”

Juanita runs cross-country in the fall so she’s fully fit for her Clix holiday indoor season and another run at the high school state soccer championship in the spring. Before her freshman year, Juanita heard rumors that her high school soccer coach wouldn’t help with the athletic director, college recruiting, ID camps… basically anything. Once again, she had to take care of herself. On her first day in the halls of Spartan High, Juanita marched into Mr. Wood’s office to announce a four-year commitment to cross-country in the fall and soccer in the spring.

“You could train with the track team instead,” Peter explained. “Then you can try out next year as a sophomore, and who knows, maybe make it to the Kingdom as a junior or senior.”

“I will run cross-country in the fall and play soccer in the spring,” Juanita repeated as she turned and left the office.

PONED

Jake arrived an hour before practice on Friday. He staked a GoPro camera four feet above the ground immediately behind the primary goalkeeper training net on one end of the field. Behind the collection net 20 yards back, he raised a tripod 21 feet and calibrated an automatic camera with a SoloShot tracking tag sitting in the center circle next to two other tags awaiting calibration.

Circling the field, he raised two more tripods for automatic cameras at midfield and behind the opposite goal, calibrating both. Juanita, Maggie the goalkeeper, and Rachel all planned to wear the tags. Jake was helping them create highlight videos for college recruiting, and they liked to review all their training sessions and games on their own. Jake filmed every game and more than half the practices. Travis promised to hold video sessions, but it hadn’t happened yet.

Jeremy headed to Jake with the goalkeepers — Maggie, Becky the backup, and two freshmen.

“I saw your grandparents at the pool this morning, Maggie. They’re too cute. Here’s your tracker tag.”

Jake positioned cones and saved the manual setup with his best equipment for last, carefully balancing and confirming sight lines near the midfield coaches’ bench. He had the field covered from every angle.

Outside the gate, Travis saw Peter weaving his golf cart through band equipment staged in the parking lot. He rushed back to his car to get his Spartan Running Kings jacket and pulled it on while trotting frantically to the path near his training ground.

“It’s shorter to go the other way by the soccer field,” Peter told his passenger as he pulled a U-turn and steered toward the main Running Kingdom route. “But they’ve never won a state championship.”

The candidate for the assistant javelin coaching position received a knowing stare. “Now…. Is it 10 cross-country championships and a dozen track titles for us? Or the other way around? Well?”

The last girl arrived at the soccer field. Travis appeared moments later and barked when he saw a sea of tape-wads from the lacrosse team near his bench.

“Screw it. We’re moving,” Travis announced. “Ladies. We’re heading to the softball outfield. No way I’m getting stuck cleaning up this mess. Smart, huh? Jake! Get the cones.”

Jake looked at Maggie, Juanita, and Rachel. None of them spoke. The bus garage and equipment building stood between the soccer and softball fields, blocking the view for all three calibrated cameras. Rachel knew what this meant.

“Look at it this way, Jake. We stand around while coach talks for the first 30 minutes anyway. Not exactly highlight material.”

Floating from the parking lot, the band suffered through the hardest part of “Celebrate.”

“NOW, Ladies! Get moving NOW!”

“Could you take the cones while I tear down?” Jake was exasperated. “Wait. Give me your tags. I don’t have time to recalibrate after moving the cameras. We’ll try this again another day. I’ll put my equipment away and shoot manual… focus on you three. All you can do is roll with it.”

Breaking down his third tower, Jake finally figured out what two students were doing at the edge of the parking lot. Harold was pushing Karl in his wheelchair, but Harold is blind so it looked like a slapstick routine. While the band butchered “Celebrate,” Karl gave cues and intentional miscues on the other side of the lot. They zig-zagged and giggled. Jake carted his tripods to his van and saw them stop and seem to sniff the air.

“Susie’s flat. Gerald is way sharp. The drummers are too slow,” Harold observed, shaking his head. “Gawd they suck.”

ROLLING WITH IT

All four of Juanita’s grandparents are still alive, and three great-grandparents too. But they live in Aguascalientes. She’s never met them. When Maggie invited her to dinner at home with her dad’s parents, Juanita learned about a future full of fractures from the past. Both in their 80s, Maggie’s grandparents have dementia, presumably Alzheimer’s. They lived in Tehran and then Stockholm before moving to Colorado, so all they speak is Farsi sprinkled with occasional Swedish cuss words. Mostly they mumble. Amir and Helen understand English, but they do a lousy job faking like they don’t.

Juanita made eye contact with Amir and Helen first when Maggie answered the door. They both stopped muttering and stared at her with huge smiles. Juanita didn’t understand a word they said, but their animated gestures made it obvious. They wanted her to sit between them. Maggie rearranged the table place settings without violating the mysterious rules in her grandparents’ heads. The right fork in the wrong place can send one or both into a shit-fit, yammering in a panic and leaving the table without getting a single calorie in their shrinking bodies.

But they were happy together tonight with their new guest. The old couple tracked the English conversations and seem to come alive when Juanita chimed in at just the right time. Maggie was making suggestions about a secret admirer. This was news to Juanita, so she looked at the grandparents and pointed at Maggie. Then she made a face, put an open palm in front of her nose, said “boop-boop-boop,” and extended her arm to pantomime Pinocchio’s tell-tale growing nose. Amir and Helen laughed.

“I do NOT lie.”

TRACKING TIME

Travis took his ticket and drove into the mall parking garage with his older sister Bridget.

“No. It’s NOT Tuesday. Today is Saturday. How many times do I have to tell you?”

“Where are we going again?”

“Threads for Studs. I need new pants. Did you bring the blue card?”

Travis hooked the pass on his rearview mirror and angled across two handicap spots. “See? Too many wheelchairs and walkers. No door dings for me. Smart, huh?”

Once inside the mall, Travis marched past the soccer shop and food court with his sister trailing behind. In Threads for Studs, he decided to try on shoes before checking out trousers. He settled on brown wingtips, picked up a new sweater vest, and eventually headed to the pants section.

“Is this Home Depot?” an old man croaked behind the ties and belts.

Travis set his shoes and vest on a bench and raced out to find his 60-year-old sister. He covered the top level in a few minutes. When he saw a group of his players coming up the escalator, he hid inside another men’s shop until they passed out of sight. Downstairs, he gave up checking the whole floor and returned to buy his shoes, sweater, and pants. On his way back to the parking garage, he composed a text for his sister Bernice.

“Bridget at mall. I’m heading home, but u can pick her up b4 they close 2night. They said she 8 in dining hall b4 I showed up to buy her some…”

“Hello, Travis.” Bridget was standing by his car. “Is today Tuesday?”

SERVING NOTICE

Jake greeted players as they arrived for training on Monday.

“Rachel, your visual arts show was awesome last Friday.”

“Thanks, Jake. How’s your cartooning coming along?”

“I haven’t invented characters I really like yet. If I don’t care about them, I can’t maintain a series. But a friend of mine commissioned me to illustrate his book.”

“Drawing for money. Sounds good. What’s the book all about?”

“He says he’ll pay me out of the proceeds. The book better be all about winning a Pulitzer.”

While players ran laps, Travis laughed and told the staff about his trip to the mall with his sister on Saturday.

“She lost track of me,” the head coach said.

“No, Travis,” Diego corrected. “You lost track of her.”

“Do I get paid to nurse her? No. Thank you very much. What? I’m supposed to watch her like a hawk for free? Is that what Saint Diego and his disciples think?”

“All I can say is me and the disciples run this Myers-Briggs Four Square Tournament.”

“Who?”

“People like us always hear, ‘It’s in! It’s out! Who cares?’ Then we’re the folks who say, ‘OK, everybody. Let’s play the point over.’ You, Travis, play in the other three squares. I don’t think you’ve ever been to our square.”

“What makes your square so special?”

“We serve.”

LIGHT UP THE DARK

“Amateur leagues go way back in Colorado,” Jeremy told Juanita in the darkness outside County High School’s stadium. Spartan squeaked out a 1–0 win against the new school an hour earlier. The lights were out, and the operations manager needed to lock the gate for the night. So the team waited on the shoulder of the newly paved county road. Clouds blocked the stars, and the moon wouldn’t be up for hours. Travis said he would be right back with the bus.

All you can do is roll with it.

Diego found the face of a broken goal in a pile of trash on the dark side of an equipment shed.

“This school is brand new. How can they already have trash like this?”

He wedged it vertically into position against the wall. Using cones stacked behind the shed, he paced off and marked the six-yard box, the penalty spot, the 18, and the Venn Diagram spillover from the 10-yard sanctuary around the spot mark. Some call it the “D,” but typographically it’s too tall and thin. It’s like a slice off the top of the center circle, a safe zone for ceremonial moments when the ball is kicked.

Diego headed back to the group to ask Maggie to get her gloves for a demonstration. Without the moon and stars, his pupils dilated full-bore for the walk.   

“Pro leagues came and went — indoor and outdoor,” Jeremy explained to Juanita. “They all sparked and fizzled during Diego’s time. His goal was to play the most competitive level he could find. Early Sunday mornings he’d drive to ranches on the plains where hundreds of guys gathered around a dirt field to place bets on games throughout the day. Players didn’t get a dime, but lucky guys got promoted to premier teams. Diego played indoor professionally coast to coast, specializing in life support for failing franchises. When all that dried up, he tried to rekindle all his old friendships and played for three teams in three different leagues. In 2010, the Rapids won MLS Cup, and Diego won all three league championships. He —”

“Forgot what it meant to be a teammate,” Diego interrupted, startling Jeremy and Juanita. “I made rules for myself that fall, and I only missed four games in all three leagues. Rule one: Never leave a game before the final whistle. Two: Play their way, not mine. We usually won. But I rarely had the time or energy to celebrate. It didn’t feel right. Then it hit me. I had forgotten what it means to be a teammate. Winning isn’t enough.”

Jake had a portable floodlight in his equipment bag, the perfect prop for the lesson behind the shed. Everyone followed Diego around the corner into the darkness where cones stood mute like garden gnomes marking the attacking third — or the defending third, depending on your point of view.

“Why do you have all these blindfolds in your bag, coach? Is this some kind of kinky adult thing we’re not supposed to know about?”

“Nope. Migraines.”

“You must get a lot of them.”

Diego helped Maggie with her gloves on the goal line next to the wall. Then he fitted her blindfold. She looked ready for a firing squad. He stepped back outside the box with Jake’s device at his chest and the group behind him.

“I’m the attacker with the ball,” Diego said as he flicked on the photon bomber. Maggie stood in the middle against the wall and didn’t cast a shadow. Almost all of the goal was bright white.

“Now take one step forward toward my voice. I’m at one of the intersections outside the box where you want your fastest defenders to be in position before you block a penalty kick and they need to clear it away. See her shadow now? At least she has part of the goal covered. Now take three steps toward me. Rachel, make sure she doesn’t trip on the cones. When coaches tell goalkeepers, ‘make yourself big,’ this is what they mean. Look how much her shadow covers now. Stand Leonardo Da Vinci style with your legs spread and arms extended. Now sweep your arms. The shadow —”

Everyone turned to see the bus pull up short of the gate. Diego clicked off the floodlight. Travis left the motor running and ran behind a suburban sapling across the road. The clouds had cleared, and the yellow moon turned white, casting dark blue shadows.

“He’s taking a dump. Smaduh is taking a shit. Hershey squirts, looks like.”

“He doesn’t think anyone can see him.”

“Diego! Let’s sneak on the bus and drive away. We’ll never get another chance like this.”

“Look, he’s reaching behind him. No paper, Smaduh. You ain’t got no paper, Smaduh. Gross. He just pulled up his pants. Here he comes.”

“OK. Time to head to the bus. Good idea, Maggie. If he was constipated, we would be on our way home without him already.”

HIGH IT COMES, LOW IT GOES

“If you two clowns can teach this better than me, step right up,” Mr. Wagner challenged, waving his piece of chalk.

“How much time do we get,” Karl replied as Harold rolled him toward the front of the classroom, bumping into students and desks. “We’ll use your hula hoops, and can we show it in the hallway instead?”

“I was just kidding. This is one of those rhetorical teacher things we say sometimes. You’re not….”

Harold kept rolling, and Karl motioned for all the Physics 101 students to follow them out the door. What could Wagner do?

“You stand here,” Karl instructed his teacher, “pretty much in the middle of this long hall. You are the point of reference for this Doppler Shift lesson. The kids represent SOUND. Since Harold and I aren’t fast enough to do light, we’ll demonstrate with sound instead.”

Karl had Harold roll him with the students to one end of the hall.

“You know how airplanes have a high-pitched whine on their way toward you, and the pitch drops when they’re flying away? That’s the Doppler Shift. The sound waves are coming at you and the plane is coming at you, so the waves jam up against each other. This increases the amplitude, the wavelength height. Anyway, it’s a higher pitch. You can hear it.

“But when the plane passes by, the waves are still coming at you while the origin is moving away. So the waves flatten out. The pitch goes lower.”

“THESE GUYS ARE SOUND,” Harold yelled down the hall.

“Shush. Put Harold at the back of the line. Each of you take a hula hoop. Put a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of you and march single-file toward Wagner. Hand your hoop to the person in front of you after every third step. Keep handing the hoops forward until you reach Wagner. Stop there.”

Harold kept a steady beat at the back of the line, emitting a high-pitched beep every few steps as the group filed forward and the hoops accumulated toward the front. Juanita and Maggie were at the head of the line and had all 20 hoops when they halted in front of Wagner.

“Now let’s return all the hula hoops so everyone has one,” Karl yelled from his wheelchair. “Start there with Mr. Wagner, and hand your hoop to the person behind you every third step as you continue walking at the same pace down the hall.”

Harold softly beeped a slower, lower tone as the group headed away from Mr. Wagner. Harold was well past his physics teacher when he had an armload of 20 hoops. He put them all over his head and tried to hula, but it didn’t work.

Mr. Wagner took a liking to his two twisted physics kids. Both guys had perfect pitch, loved music, and routinely fooled their teacher into talking about rhythm, pitch, and tone until the bell rang and he ran out of time to assign homework.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
Rachel saw Jake pull into the parking lot on her way to change for practice on Wednesday, so she detoured to help him carry his equipment first. Every day, he made several trips from his van with his homemade buggy. The full load could fit in one golf cart run, but no one ever rolled up with an offer to help. Jake wasn’t holding his breath. He was thankful for considerate players like Juanita and Rachel.

“So what’s your friend’s book really about, Jake?”

“It’s centered around soccer in a way that makes all of life seem centered around soccer. He also touches on dementia and a guy who can’t deal with his family members having memory issues. This guy can’t deal with anything, really. He’s a total dick.”

“So, do you draw a bunch of dicks or what?”

“That’s a thought. No. I’m still sketching out ideas. My buddy Darren is on a roll and won’t be done for months. So I’m going at his pace.”

“Well. How long does it take to win a Pulitzer?”

TERRIBLE TEASING

Travis rooted through his sister’s Memory Box in her studio apartment at Thankful Memories on Thursday morning.

“What are you doing with these, Bridget? You should have thrown these tampons away years ago. Watch me hit the trash can from here. Boom from downtown. Smart, huh?”

Bridget hurried to the garbage and retrieved her tampons, but Travis snatched the box away from her. He ran out her door and downstairs outside the building below her window.

“See me now, Bridget?” Travis waved at his sister and reverse-dunked the box into the dumpster.

“Domin-NEEEK Wilkins!”

Late that night, Bernice received a call from Thankful Memories. Bridget got outside somehow and was found walking back from the dumpster with a box of tampons. Could Bernice explain? No. Bernice could not explain.

CANDID CAMERAS

When Rachel and Maggie got hurt at practice on Thursday, Jake let them run two cameras side-by-side. Travis sent the players to “the nursery,” but they wanted to ice by the field instead and film the JV-Varsity scrimmage.

“You zoom in too much, Rachel.”

“Well look at your monitor. You’re out so far, it’s nothing but a blur, like a cheap security camera on a Walmart parking lot.”

“I only zoom in on what matters.”

“You think all that other stuff doesn’t matter?”

“What other stuff?”

“Guess so.”

During halftime, Travis wasn’t around to give another speech, so the players gathered around Maggie and Rachel at the cameras.

“My mom told me the funniest story last night,” Juanita announced. “A woman named Bridget at her work had a dream of passengers jumping out of a burning airplane. She saw an armadillo in the air while a guy with a parachute was handing another parachute to a raccoon. Then two guys walked up, and one of them said —”

“LADIES. It’s time for the second half.”

Travis had returned.

SISTER SECRETS

Thankful Memories staff noticed how Bridget turned quiet after everyone warned her not to escape again or she’ll get kicked out of the facility. Bridget retreated to the corner of the crafts room for a few days and worked feverishly on a project she wouldn’t let anyone see.

“It’s a secret.”

KEEPING EYES ON THINGS

After eight hours of cleaning up residents and guiding them through the building, Maria knew she would have to work late again. Alvin’s spot in the Thankful Memories employee lot was still empty, and he was supposed to clock in 10 minutes ago. When Juanita was 13, Alvin arranged a tryout with Colorado Clix, a club known for weak boys at the bottom of the DA table but a strong ECNL program for girls. Juanita earned a spot on the top roster, and Maria has been saving Alvin’s ass ever since.

Juanita wouldn’t be home from her high school soccer practice for another hour, but Maria wasn’t concerned yet. A sophomore, Juanita was the oldest of six kids in Maria’s apartment. If Alvin didn’t arrive, Juanita could handle dinner at home while Maria worked overtime.

“Hola, Maria,” Bridget said softly from behind the bookcase. “Have you seen my brother Travis? He said he would come visit me today. Is today Saturday?”

“Hoy es Jueves. It’s Thursday today. But I saw Diego in the lobby.”

“Oh good. I hope Diego visits me. I like to have visitors. Your hair scrunchy looks nice. Is today Saturday?”

“Today is Thursday.”

Across town, Mack and his two little sisters headed home from a movie with their dad.

“Dad. Can we stop by the FEET field?”

“Did you leave something there?”

“No. I want to show you a drill Diego did last Friday. We might do it again tomorrow. Jane and Kat can help.”

“It’s dark.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

Mack Sr. stretched with the ball at his feet near the goal line. In the center circle, Mack took off his shirt, twisted it into a blindfold, and explained “Stevie Wonder” to his little sisters. They were too small to block the ball, so he asked them to scream if it looked like he was going to get hit.

“After a few, I want you to be quiet no matter what. Just watch while I try to head it blind.”

Mack-Daddy punted a dozen high balls, and he heard his daughters shrieking for half of them. He couldn’t see much of anything in the dark.

“OK. I’m ready. Keep quiet, please.”

When his dad kicked, Mack shuffled up and back and then set his feet wide the moment he felt confident. The ball bounced directly in front of him, shot up into his crotch, and dropped him to the fetal position. Mack’s dad thought he heard a watermelon dropped on tile flooring. Then he heard his daughters cackling like he’d never heard before.

At Thankful Memories, Maria called Juanita during her 2:30 a.m. break. Alvin finally replied to her texts a little after midnight. He was in Las Vegas and wanted her to clock in and out for him.

“New Mexico or Nevada?”

No reply.

“I won’t be able to leave here until relief comes at 7:00,” Maria explained. “If Cesar isn’t around to drive everyone to school in the morning, could you take them on Light Rail?”

“No worries, Mom.”

When Diego arrived at the FEET field before dawn, Juanita was trying to show her brothers and sisters how to juggle, but they only had one ball.

“Have you ever played Bomb?”

“No, what’s that, coach?”

Holding the ball with his fingers like tongs, Diego said, “You must defuse this bomb without using your hands. Unless every player in the group touches the ball at least once before it hits the ground, it will explode and destroy the planet.”

Diego started juggling and passed the ball in the air to the youngest, Miguel. He toed it first-time straight up. His sister Alba swung a leg and missed.

“BOOM-BOOM! BYE-BYE, WORLD!”

A line of headlights started filing into the parking lot, so Diego went about setting up cones. Mack, the second player to arrive, jogged out to the field.

“Coach? Can I help you?”

“I think the ladders are rolled up behind the shed. Make a pile near the far corner. No. Better yet. Go ahead and set them up any way you want in the mini-field over there.”

“Cool. Coach, I wanted to ask you something.”

“Yes.”

“Last week I covered that kid Ozzy.”

“Malcolm?”

“Yeah. He hates it when you call him Malcolm. He gets fired up easy anyway. Every time I won a tackle he bitched at the ref and came after me. I didn’t say a word or foul him all game, but he acted like I slapped his grandmother or something.”

“You’ve probably already heard this one. What did the sadist say to the masochist who asked to be beaten?”

“What?”

“He said, ‘No. I will not beat you.’ So Mack, don’t give it to him. Malcolm’s dad paid him a dollar a goal when he was a kid. I refereed plenty of youth games, and I remember hearing daddy brag on the sidelines and make a show of handing money to his son. It’s sad. Malcolm doesn’t even know why he’s playing anymore, so he needs some kind of drama to motivate him. Don’t give it to him. Put him to sleep. Don’t fire him up.”

Mack designed a swirling ladder pattern, finishing with a sprint up the railroad ties. Car doors slammed, and Nita’s brothers and sisters were still trying their best to save Earth.

“BOOM-BOOM! BYE-BYE, WORLD!”

Colorado Clix owner Alexis Pham wondered why Diego’s center back sessions drew the most kids to FEET on Fridays, so she parked at the trailhead behind the ridge and hiked up to secretly watch the session. Almost all her Clix teams were getting shutouts every week since the start of the new year.

When the last player arrived, Diego went silent for the next 90 minutes. Alexis was waiting to see Reverse 500. She heard about the drill and was curious. Alexis played Ultimate Frisbee in high school during the soccer offseason, and they played tons of 500 at practice. The coach would throw a frisbee into the crowd. Catch it first and you got 100 points. The first to snag five won. Through the dark, Alexis saw the clump of kids boil when Diego punted the ball.

“Hey. I’m ready today,” Mack informed the group. “Let me warm up with the first 10, but then I want to try it with no help, like Nita.”

“Are you sure?”

“Is the bear Catholic?”

Mack nailed his footing for the first 10, although he sparked a long argument among the others over his seventh.

“I’m ready.”

Alexis noticed the kids step back to stand on the semicircle line. Their excited boil changed to a nervous simmer. Diego took his steps to punt another high ball.

“BOOM-BOOM! BYE-BYE, WORLD!”

Everyone on the line heard the kick and the kids at the same time, and they could tell Mack didn’t hear the ball at all. From the jukebox in her head on the ridge, Alexis heard, “Set up, like a bowling pin.” So far, the kid with perfect footing had shuffled into place for every punt. Now he was frozen.

All the players converged and jumped, a cue for Mack. He stepped in and jumped quicker. Diego saw the frozen kid, the tight swarm, and then Mack’s blindfolded head popping out of the crowd to head the ball back toward him.

Diego ran to midfield to hear what they had to say.

“I felt kind of naked with all of you behind me. Then all I heard was, ‘BOOM-BOOM! BYE-BYE, WORLD!’ When you rushed to the ball, I figured you knew where you were going. So I just sensed a spot in the group and jumped. Maybe it hit my head more than I hit it. I dunno.”

After training, Diego walked with Juanita and her brothers and sisters to the end of the Light Rail line for their ride to school.

“No matter what kind of striker you think you’re covering, you gotta meet them where they are, Nita. Of course you try to anticipate where they’re headed, but don’t go there. Meet them where they are. Watch out for the quick, poker-faced players who stand around looking bored until they dart through your blind side.”

Juanita stopped for drop-offs at separate schools before heading to Spartan High for first period.

MAKING MUSIC

Harold and Karl finished choir practice downtown on Saturday afternoon, but they had nothing planned for the evening. No dances for dancing. No plays for playing. No parties for partying.

“All you can do is roll with it. Let’s take Light Rail to the end of the line, and then go FARTHER.”

“OK. I’ll push you until we hit dirt.”

Harold and Karl weaved along the sidewalk to the community bike path. Runners and cyclists gave them a wide berth as they careened down the hill. A murder of crows flew into the sunset as they criss-crossed the creek through a maze of bridges. They had the path to themselves.

Harold stopped and cocked his head. Karl closed his pie-hole and listened too. In the cottonwoods below them, a steady metallic rhythm mixed with rushing water and someone humming. They couldn’t see the source of the sound through the trees.

“The Wall. That’s Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall.’ Listen Harold, ‘duh-duh — Teacher! Leave those kids alone!’”

“Nope. I think it’s the Mexican version of Happy Birthday. Listen.”

Harold rolled his buddy closer to the melody. They heard feet shuffling, soft singing, and a whipping sound mixed with metal notes.

“That’s Nita kicking a ball against the bridge, two balls actually. She’s with a dude, and he’s dribbling and kicking two balls on the other bridge over the culvert right next to her.”

“Kicking against what? I hear different tones.”

“They’re keeping the ball on the ground and hitting metal plates at the base.”

Unaware of their audience, Nita and Mack ran through the song a dozen more times while Harold and Karl listened and debated. Finally they decided to interrupt the soccer players.

“Harold, Karl! What are you guys doing way out here? This is Mack.”

“Howdy, howdy. Was that ‘The Wall’ or ‘Happy Birthday’ in Español?”

“Both. I sang Pink Floyd in English, and Nita sang the Spanish.”

“If they tightened the bridge plates, you could probably tune them a little. You guys almost had it, except that one was flat.”

Harold pointed toward a spot on the bridge, and another science lesson was born, another free period in Mr. Wagner’s Physics class.

SURPRISE!

Travis showed up for a free lunch at Thankful Memories on Monday. Outside Bridget’s room, he saw her give a gift to one of the helpers.

“Now don’t open it until Christmas, Maria. Open it when you’re decorating your tree.”

“Is it an ornament?”

“I’m not telling. It’s—”

“Not appropriate to give gifts to illegals, Bridgy. What’s the name on your badge? Marianna?”

“Maria.” After a full season and the start of another, Travis still didn’t make the connection between his sister’s care-giver and his left winger’s mother. Plus, Juanita and Maria looked like sisters. But he still didn’t get it. Maria didn’t bother to correct him.

“Bridget gave me this for Christmas.”

Travis snatched the present. “You know it’s only April, don’t you?”

He tore away the wrapping. “Let’s see what ICE would have to say about this.”

Travis pulled back tissue paper and saw a little white angel in the box. A tiny wire halo topped its head, and a thin string extended, perhaps for anchoring to a tree branch. Bridget had taken the time to glue wings to its back, Sharpie a smiley face, and flare the bottom.

COIN TOSS: HOPE OR NOPE?

Her doctors told Rachel to wait one more day. Maggie was fully recovered, but she limped in front of Travis because she wanted Becky to get more playing time. Otherwise, Maggie would be in goal every minute into the playoffs, and Becky would be cold if Maggie went down again.

Jeremy knew Maggie was healthy. He knew something else was going on too. Rachel and Maggie were becoming competitive with cameras. Their teammates goaded them on. After the first week, the other players starting voting every day to see who filmed better. Both girls were improving.

Rachel showed up early on Monday to help set up before their home game. She also had dibs on the better camera rig and wanted to position it herself before Maggie took the prime spot.

“So, Jake. Can I ask about the asshole guy in the story you’re illustrating?”

“Shoot.”

“Does he have a great epiphany in the end or share some wonderful message?”

“Nope. He gets worse as the story evolves. Darren gives him less attention later in the book. He eventually fades from the narrative.”

“That’s bullshit. That’s not real.”

“Rachel, you and your buddies are changing every week, every day really. You make new friends and learn new things. You make mistakes. You make good and bad decisions. Then you move on with life, picking up habits one day and dropping them the next. But after a few decades, you see certain people who will never, ever change. I dunno. Can you think of anyone? Come on. You know who I’m talking about.”

“I’m not going there, Jake.”

“You know he’ll never be anything but an asshole.”

“Newsflash, Jake. We all know Travis is a crusty douchebag. He treats us like crap and treats you worse. But we still need to forgive him. We still need to give him a chance.”

“That’s the crux, I guess. I don’t think the character in Darren’s book will every change. Travis won’t either.”

“That’s bleak. That’s a sad way to look at life, Jake. I don’t think that’ll win a Pulitzer.”

“Wait until you’re older. You’ll see.”

“Nope. If people can’t change, we’re doomed by dicks.”

While Travis shrieked man-splanations to his players from the sidelines during the game, Diego quietly addressed the group on the Spartan bench. Their lead crept toward the 10–0 Mercy Rule.

“Do all of you dance at the dances?” No replies. Faces vague. “If you say you can’t dance, get over it. If you can’t dance, you can’t play soccer.”

The center official signaled to stop the clock and marched toward Travis.

“Coach Travis McGee! This is a warning. If you offer any more crappy advice like that when your player actually made the right decision, I will eject you from this stadium.”

CALLING SHOT

Late Monday night, Juanita was done with her homework and housework and heading to bed when Mack called. Short chats or deep discussions had become a nightly ritual for the two center backs.

“The ball hits the hand. You see it and hear it like everyone else EXCEPT the center ref. This is reality. But the ref’s reality trumps truth, right?”

“Yep. Works the other way too. We win the ball clean. Striker falls and cries. Ref points to the spot.”

“Welcome to the new reality.”

“I like Diego’s motto. Refs are like mandatory mud puddles on the field. You can run around them. Or you can run right through them and get all messy.”

“All the protesting in the world won’t stop the PK.”

“Yep. All you can do is roll with it.”

WOOD, WOOD WOODYWORK

Rachel’s doctor cleared her to play, so she gave herself extra time to warm up for her first day back on Tuesday.

Mr. Wood heard a crunch when he drove his golf cart over a saxophone in the parking lot. A group of band members wordlessly turned to look at him. He exploded.

“For weeks now, you guys have been asking me for money to reserve a bus for girls soccer playoffs at State Stadium. Girls soccer? Will they even qualify? Now you need more money to fix your tuba. You sound like crap anyway. Why don’t you take your instruments to a pawn shop. Then you’ll have money for the trip AND no one will have to listen to you.”

Karl watched Mr. Wood tear into the band and drive away. He gave Harold play-by-play commentary from the trees bordering the parking lot.

“What a total dick move, Woody.”

“Kinda brilliant too, don’t you think? He’s right. They suck bad.”

Rachel was done helping Jake and passed the boys on her way to the locker room to change. Harold made a pronouncement. “If you can’t sing it, you can’t play it.”

“So why don’t you guys teach them how to sing?” Rachel startled them from behind. She heard Woody and saw the whole incident.

“Seriously. I’ve heard your choir, and it makes no sense to me that you two are NOT in the band. They need your help.”

Jogging around the field after 30 minutes of Travis babbling, Rachel relayed the story of Mr. Wood to Juanita.

“Wait. He actually asked if we’re going to make it to the playoffs? Doesn’t he know we’re ranked fourth in the state. Google it, Woody.”

Rachel also told her about her talk with Karl and Harold as they circled their last warmup lap.

“What’s Mr. Wagner doing with them in the parking lot?”

Harold rolled Karl in slow circles while Mr. Wagner unloaded what looked like metal snowboards from the back of his truck. When he set one down gently, it echoed a soft tone. No clang or clatter.

SLIPPERY SLOPE

Juanita’s voicemail box was full when she checked messages after practice on Tuesday. Her mom heard rumors that ICE planned a raid at Thankful Memories later that night. Maria became a U.S. citizen before Jesus died, but she didn’t trust the system. She didn’t want to take any chances. In her last message, Maria asked Juanita to come by work.

Juanita signed in and headed to the memory car wing of the building. Usually the lobby teemed with residents chatting, playing cards, or watching TV. The room seemed more abandoned than empty. No one was there.

Juanita turned the corner and understood. The side entrance was blocked with ICE signage and a table for questioning staff members one at a time. She didn’t see her mother in line in the corridor. Her phone buzzed with a text from Maria.

“I see U, Nita. I’m in the crafts room.”

Juanita backed down the hall and joined her mother in the supply closet.

“But, Mom. Just show them your driver’s license and clock in like you always do. You’ve been legal forever.”

“They’re using the fingerprint machine too. Nothing good ever comes from a talk with ICE. Did you see Alvin by their table?”

“Yep.”

“That’s another reason. Your coach and him are buddies now. They’re on kind of a crusade. They’re the ones who called ICE and requested verification.”

“But you’re LEGAL.”

“This feels weird. Alvin and your coach… it’s like they’re defending the war on Christmas or something. The machine doesn’t care if you actually work here. Your prints are native, Nita. So it won’t beep for you.”

Juanita agreed this was more than paranoia. Maria was right. Surrounded by knitting supplies, sparkles, and glue, they switched clothes. Juanita raised her right index finger, winked at her mom, and headed into the hallway.

“Hola, Maria. Is today Sunday?”

SHAVED

When Jake showed up for practice on Wednesday, he was surprised to see a dozen workers scattered around the soccer field. They were busy ripping up old artificial turf and making small green mountains. He saw Mr. Wood in his golf cart outside the field and went to him for answers.

“We got a great deal on new turf.”

“Where is it?”

“On order. It should be here in a week or two. But we had this crew working on the hammer-throw arena today, and I figured they could knock this out while we still had them on the clock.”

A sea of green piles covered the naked field as the crew left with their gear.

“Did you know that playoffs start next week, Mr. Wood?”

“Of course. I think our baseball team has a chance this year.”

“I meant— never mind.”

Rachel bumped into Jake in the parking lot on her way to training.

“How come you never show me your drawings, Jake?”

“You never asked. Here’s a new one I finished last night.”

Jake pulled an oversized drawing from his van.

Last Parachute

“That lady’s dream! You drew the dream Nita told us about. Wait. What does this have to do with soccer?”

“Nothing. Jeremy challenged me to finish the story. I bet he forgot, so I’m going to frame it and surprise him for his birthday next month.”

Travis was nowhere in sight, and Diego stood speechless when he saw the ruined field. Most of the players had already arrived and waited outside the gate. Without Travis, Diego would run the training session. Instead of standing around listening to a rant, the girls warmed up like never before.

“Get a ball apiece and follow me.”

Diego dribbled his own ball and led the group off campus to Spartan Park down the street.

“This is like Skate. My brother plays this at the skatepark. It’s follow-the-leader with tricks along the way.”

Diego snaked through the park and set up a circuit for players to run in pairs. At some stations of the cycle, they competed. But on risky parts of the monkey bars, they spotted each other. They worked together throughout the course as much as they worked alone.

After 90 minutes, the team returned to campus happy.

“I liked playing tic-tac-toe on the playground structure in the middle of the circuit. That was my favorite.”

“I won the golf game. That’s my favorite.” 

CHUCKLE, STAGE WEST

The Wiseguys Comedy Club open-mic boss in Salt Lake City gave Jeremy two minutes. Another comic in line said he sometimes gave you three, if you brought a friend or bought a round.

“How many of you like to play games with other people who don’t know they’re playing?”

Jeremy heard a smattering of snickers and claps from the small crowd.

“For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s OK. We still enjoy playing with you.” Light chuckles. “I’ll teach you a few of my personal favorites tonight.

“When I check out at the grocery store, I always put the eggs and chicken near each other and wait to see which gets scanned first.” Unexpected extended laughter messed with Jeremy’s timing. “After three years playing this game, it’s tied 33-33. ‘Which came first?’ It’s still a mystery.”

CALLING MORE SHOTS

Mack answered before the third ring.

“I understand the jersey-number shorthand for identifying players from goalkeeper to 11, but it’s not quite right. It depends on your tendencies. Plus, when you help, you end up in every spot on the field eventually anyway.”

“You know what’s worse? I hate when people say the 4-4-2 is better than 4-3-3 or 4-2-1-2-1 or whatever. We’re one of the two in the middle of the back four in all these schemes. Some games we loiter in the center circle watching our friends victimize the other team. We step back beyond the circle for kickoffs and eventually linger in the center again for a show.”

“Yep. Or we’re covered in blood and sweat on our own penalty spot all game. I know what you mean. One story of the back four is completely different from another. It depends on the game.” 

FACE THE MUSIC

When Rachel arrived at the football practice field on Thursday, she saw Juanita with Karl and Harold near one of the portable goals Diego borrowed from Colorado Clix. Beside them, Rachel saw a stack of thin, colored bars as long and wide as a snowboard.

Rachel saw Diego dropping cones and smiled. That meant Travis was gone again today. Travis always yells at Diego when he stoops to touch a cone. “That’s Jake’s job!” Not today.

Jeremy was still out of town, but Maggie was already working with Becky on the opposite goal. Only one camera tower stood near midfield. Jake was busy with Mr. Wagner in a circle of blocking sleds aligned like Stonehenge outside the field.

“Does Sma— I mean, — does coach want us to start hitting like linemen or something?”

“Nope. We’re going in a different direction today.”

Fuzzy wind-screened microphones dangled from a few sleds. Harold wanted to record from multiple angles for analyzing the sound.

“Hey, Rachel. I wish I could pick these up, and I wish Harold could see. Could you help Nita move these inside the ring?”

Thin but dense and heavy, the metal boards had fold-out supports. Once you set a board down, it would take serious effort to move it. When the circle was complete, the boards aligned like the wall of a pigpen. Harold ran his hand along the top of each as he slowly circled the boards.

“We need a D here instead. Move this B-flat to that side.”

Harold knew the notes according to board thickness — and the sound itself. Karl had to color-code the full stack so he could tell them apart.

Harold and Karl introduced Mr. Wagner to Diego and Jake an hour earlier to ask if they could borrow a few players for a physics project. Karl gave an animated account of the night they heard Nita and Mack making music on the bridges. Diego routinely ran over the same bridges to reach his favorite trails. He agreed, and the physics trio had no idea how lucky they were. Travis would have cut them off before they asked a single question.

Diego wanted to run through corner kicks after warmups, but the team asked too many questions about the colorful circle. Mr. Wagner signaled that they were ready.

“Blame Nita if you think this is nuts. Or blame these guys. I’ll let them explain.”

Practice was almost over before the rhythm and tones started to sound anything like music. All the players focussed on the challenge. They had to hit the ball along the ground, crisp and accurate. Without Travis yelling nonsense while they concentrated on technique, their touches sharpened. You could hear it. Harold pointed out wrong notes, but he didn’t yell. He stood on a stepladder outside the circle, whistling and pointing toward bars with vigorous “yes” or “no” head shakes.

Diego finally convinced the players to run through set pieces before the end of the training session.

After a long meeting with Peter in the AD’s office, Diego walked to the parking lot and saw a ring of cars circled with their headlights pointing at a smaller circle of tone boards. A dozen kids danced and kicked in the middle.

“That can’t be Pink Floyd, can it?”

WOODPECKER PECKERWOOD

Harold stood with Karl and the marching band in the empty parking lot. All their instruments were gone.

“We set up here before Woody called us to his office.”

“Harold and I watched the whole thing. Well, I watched, and he listened. After you went into the building, three guys drove up in a truck, loaded it fast, and split.”

“They said they came from Chaffee County. Their high school burned down last year, and the band members raised money to replaced their instruments.”

“THAT’S why Woody had a pile of money on his desk, mostly ones and fives. He told us we could stop begging now. He found financing for our State Stadium trip. Sure. Now we have money, but we don’t have anything to play.”

“Yes you do. Open your minds and mouths. You can sing instead. We’ll teach you.”

“Yeah. You’ll be accompanying the soccer team all right. That’s for sure.”

Band members shared a puzzled look.

SINGING  PRAISE

Usually only players, coaches, and stadium staff arrive an hour before a girls high school soccer game. But Spartan fans streamed into the stadium early for the first-round playoff game. A couple dozen kids in band uniforms mixed with the crowd.

Long before the season started, Travis announced he wouldn’t be available for the first-round game because he was flying to California for a USSF “C” license course. He reminded the team every week. With Travis out of town, Diego and the girls invited Harold and Karl to join in the warmups.

“You get 10 minutes. Just so long as we stop the music with about 20 minutes left before kickoff, you can jam all you want. I’ll let you know when the players are ready for you.”

A few band members carried the tone boards from the locker room and set up a ring by a corner flag in minutes. The rest of the band dispersed among fans in the Spartan section. When the rhythm started, opposing fans pricked up their ears. In the press box, the stats manager turned off the stadium music.

Players weaved through the circle and knocked balls off the tone boards to a steady beat. Voices rose from different spots in the crowd with variations of the Spartan High School fight song. Some harmonized. Others cycled in rounds, and they all came together to repeat the chorus.

Spartan won the game 5–2.

“Just four more to go,” Diego told the team on the bus. “We could be state champs 16 days from now. But not if we blow it in the next round.”

SPARTAN ON-FIELD RESPONSE

Travis yelled throughout the second-round game, a 2–1 lackluster win. The juniors and seniors knew intensity would rise for the quarterfinals. It wasn’t just a matter of winning. They had to preserve emotional energy to pace themselves for a championship.

Before the quarterfinal kickoff the following week, Travis told his players to sit back.

“We’ll get our counter at some point. We’ll win 1–0. Smart, huh?”

Rachel plays defensive midfielder, but when it’s time to score, she never wastes chances. The players already made their game plan the night of their disappointing first-round performance. Surprise the opponents with an early goal, and then put the game out of reach before they can recover. Make them give up. Then players can relax. To prepare and preserve, a good coach with a big lead gives time to backups.

“That’s not what I told you to do!” Travis screamed from the sidelines after Rachel scored the team’s third goal in the first 15 minutes.

Travis fumed on the sidelines. One by one, he swapped out starters so he could yell at them for insubordination. He didn’t realize it, but by the final whistle, all his players got in the game.

STATE FINAL

Warming up before the championship game, Juanita couldn’t get used to the view of State Stadium from the field. She loved MLS and remembered watching the Rapids at the old stadium downtown. Jesus bought season tickets every year. The family rarely missed a game. City officials agreed to build State Stadium after MLS added a second franchise in Colorado. Juanita’s policy: Never turn down a ticket to see either team.

Today she had butterflies in her stomach, but not because of the atmosphere. Three of her Clix ECNL teammates played for the other school. Juanita tried to convince herself otherwise, but she knew Spartan was outmatched.

Marooned on the left wing, Juanita didn’t touch the ball until 20 minutes into the first half. She retreated deeper to get involved, but Travis honked like a wounded goose every time she dropped behind the midfield line. Down 1–0 and then 2–0 before the break, Travis wouldn’t stop yelling at his players, fans, the referees, even the wind. On his way to the locker room at halftime, Travis McGee verbally attacked the officiating crew. He ranted like an auctioneer waving an empty whiskey bottle, finally getting the red card he wanted.

“They can’t pin this loss on me,” Travis told himself as he walked to his car. “Smart, huh?”

Diego and Jeremy sat by the lockers with the players and waited for their head coach. Jake raced in to break the silence.

“Travis got ejected. I got it all on film. I’d put him in the lead for an Oscar right now. What a drama queen.”

Diego moved Juanita to center back and pushed Rachel into the attacking midfield role.

“One goal at a time. We can get back in this game.”

They couldn’t. Juanita and Rachel combined for a goal, and they kept the ball in the attacking third until the final whistle. But it wasn’t enough. They lost 2–1.

All you can do is roll with it.

JAKE’S TAKE

One requirement for hosting a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game is video capability. Teams are not required to actually film the game, but they must check it off the list when they apply to host. The tournament begins two years before the championship because it takes that long to weed through the amateur teams. Then the pros higher up the pyramid join for the final stages.

The Colorado Clix coaches entered a team in the LHUSOC for the first time two years ago, flying through the preliminary rounds but dropping out. This season was different. The young Clix coaches dominated all their games and earned a trip to face Rattlesnake SC at Forgotten Memorial Stadium.

The USL streams league games on the Internet for free. Every team needs a crew to meet the league requirement, so Rattlesnake SC automatically fit the LHUSOC criteria.

But behind the closed doors of their front office, Rattlesnake SC brass read between the lines.

“Just because we can doesn’t mean we will. If we stream it, all the fans will stay home and we’ll lose money. Let’s craft a statement. If they think no one is filming the game, we can sell fans tickets for twice the price of our league games.”

Juanita complained to Diego and Jeremy before ECNL practice at the Clix primary training facility.

“We can’t afford their USL games. How do they expect us to pay double? If only we could stream it ourselves somehow.”

“Maybe we can.”

“Diego and I are scheduled for that Open Cup game too. If we get Jake connected, we can pull this off.”

Diego worked out a plan with Jake using the dedicated Internet connection reserved for visiting teams. Jake also had his own equipment for recording and producing a live stream. He took it to another level by inviting Harold, Karl, and the Spartan school band. The singers still had enough money from Mr. Wood to buy a block of tickets at Forgotten Memorial Stadium.

A few days before the game, ticket sales managers crowed at Rattlesnake SC’s office.

“We just sold 30 more tickets for that scrimmage next week.”

“It’s not a scrimmage. It’s the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.”

“What’s that?”

“One of the oldest soccer competitions in the world. Started in 1914. It’s an open tournament for — theoretically — all the men under the U.S. Soccer umbrella.”

“Interesting. Say… Did Lamar have a brother named Mike who sponsored a women’s version of the tournament?”

An hour before kickoff the following week, the Snake Pit at Forgotten Memorial Stadium was almost empty. Rattlesnake SC season ticket holders received a generous discount on the LHUSOC game, but few took advantage of it. The stadium was steadily filling up with Spartan High band members mixed with the Colorado Clix kids and parents who could afford a ticket. But for every Clix kid with a seat, nine others sat in front of a computer somewhere.

Jake didn’t work for the club, but he wore a Colorado Clix jacket and repeated his story for anyone who would listen. He finally met the stadium operations manager.

“This is Rachel, and this is Maggie. We’re here to gather training footage for Clix. Where can we put our cameras?”

With no other media in the stadium, Jake positioned both girls at midfield, a face-off east versus west. But he didn’t stop there.

His secret high-bandwidth connection to the Colorado Clix network gave Jake license to go over the top. Using streaming software to manage multiple channels, Jake had enough bandwidth to represent each player, coach, and referee on the field. So he distributed microphones to each band member in the stands. Speaking from their seats, each kid chose one of the people to represent. Their assignment was simple. For the entire game, say what you think that person is thinking.

Remote fans could listen to the full chatter of voices during the game. They could also mute the voices individually or turn off all the sound.

Jake devoted all his attention to producing the stream and didn’t run a camera himself. He alternated between Rachel and Maggie throughout the game and synchronized comments from the corresponding audio. Jake had help monitoring all the audio streams to make sure the kids didn’t cross lines that the FCC can’t define until someone steps over them.

Rattlesnake owners coiled and protested immediately after losing the game 3–1, but they didn’t file an official complaint. As far as they knew, no one knew the score outside the stadium. If their protest failed, they’d get a lot of unnecessary negative attention over the next few weeks. The prudent PR move?

“Let the story fade. No one cares about this tournament anyway.”

With help from Jeremy and Diego, Jake refined his secret streams and generated his own revenue stream through visiting team budgets. Even the best USL broadcasts are decidedly home-based. Most announcers spend 80 percent of the game commenting on the hometown players and 20 percent mispronouncing the opposing players’ names. Teams from the USL Western Conference signed contracts with Jake to keep his crazy streams flowing for their fans from a distance.

In the Kudos section on the Colorado Clix streaming page, supporters throughout the USL Western Conference dropped dozens of comments every week.

“Before, I liked to mute the sound and play my own music. Not now. All the voices crack me up.”

“Awesome camera work.”

“It’s like the Quidditch announcers in Harry Potter, only better.”

“★★★★★!”

SOMEWHERE CLOSER TO HIS SPARTAN HOME

The lights completely blinded Jeremy, and the crowd buzz between acts was the loudest he’d ever heard from the stage. Like a bat, he would spend the next two minutes emitting jokes and hoping to hear at least a giggle to nibble in return. The audience was already warm and ready to laugh, so Jeremy’s mini-set built his confidence for the closer. 

“I had to change lanes chasing the truck through traffic. Had to. I just had to be sure. At the next light I pulled up behind and took a good look. You know the mudflap girl image? The woman with an improbable body sitting with her hands behind her, sometimes with devil horns and a spear? I didn’t see any on the bumper. But behind the driver’s head, three little versions of the mudflap girl lined up to the right of two big versions. I guess we all have our family values. Goodnight.”

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